Edwina Currie on bad eggs, politics and life in Surrey

PUBLISHED: 19:22 11 April 2012 | UPDATED: 14:32 20 February 2013

Edwina Currie. Photo: Andy Newbold

Edwina Currie. Photo: Andy Newbold

Former Health Secretary writes herself a packed schedule of TV and charity work

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2007

Former Health Secretary writes herself a packed schedule of TV and charity work

by Euan Gabbert

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THERE ARE few people who wouldn't instantly recognise the name Edwina Currie. Ask them why and most would probably say: "Eggs - and salmonella." But there is much more to Edwina than her much-publicised - but totally honest and accurate - assessment of the British egg market of 1988.

Edwina lives with her second husband John in a spacious Surrey country house. John is a former senior police officer who served for many years in the Metropolitan Police and is now a media personality in his own right.

Acquisition and school days
Edwina is one of those people who, in the nicest possible way, everyone else is always trying to catch up with. She is also, although she wouldn't agree, acquisitive. "We bought this house simply because we ran out of room in the last one," John says. "And now we are rapidly filling this one up." Much of the house is given over to mementos and reminders of the busy life she has led.

"I was born in Liverpool just after the war. My earliest claim to fame was that I went to the same school as George Harrison and Sir Paul McCartney - in fact, much of my education was spent in the Cavern Club listening to their music," Edwina says. "I grew up in an argumentative Liverpool Jewish household. My father would discuss the important matters of the day with me. We knew people who had lost everything in the Holocaust and so we understood all too well that the actions of politicians have a direct effect on the lives of ordinary families. We could never say 'it's nothing to do with me'."

Edwina was an exceptionally bright student and gained a scholarship to Oxford University, reading Chemistry before switching to Philosophy, Politics and Economics. "While I was at Oxford - this was 1968 - a certain William Jefferson Clinton was also there." Edwina moved on to take a Masters in Economic History at the London School of Economics, an experience which, she says, made her a lifelong Conservative.

She has had - so far - three careers. The first, politics, started with ten years as a councillor in Birmingham, followed by 14 years from 1983 as MP for South Derbyshire. She became one of the country's best known MPs, serving in Margaret Thatcher's government in the Department of Health from 1986-1988 and championing campaigns for heart disease, women's cancer screening and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. She was also involved in the first AIDS campaign in the UK.

Bad eggs
Then salmonella reared its ugly head. Edwina made a speech saying - quite correctly, as it turned out - that salmonella was rife in British eggs. This caused such a furore that she was obliged to resign in December 1988.

Edwina put pen to paper for her second career, writing non-fiction and then fiction. To date she has written ten novels; the first, A Parliamentary Affair, was published in 1994 and went to No 1 in the best-sellers' list with more than 250,000 copies sold and translations into German, Italian, Polish and Russian. She is proud to say that her books are borrowed from public libraries 130,000 times each year. She was also a judge for the prestigious Whitbread Prize in 1998.

Career number three began after the 1997 General Election in which the Tories lost power and Edwina lost her seat. She was promptly approached by BBC Radio Five Live and for five years hosted Late Night Currie, a programme featuring live phone-ins and topical reporting.

Edwina and John met when he appeared on the programme in 1999. "John was the main guest on a phone-in about street crime. He was an acknowledged expert having led the 'Operation Dalehouse' team on the streets of London in the early 1990s that led to the conviction of hundreds of violent criminals," Edwina explains. "Although he was in a different studio I thought he sounded great, so I asked the producer to give him my telephone number in case he fancied lunch with me. We were married on 24 May 2001 surrounded by our combined family of four sons, two daughters, their respective partners, and the grandchildren. It was lovely."

Edwina has progressed to TV, most recently presenting Currie Night for HTV, and appearing in Hell's Kitchen. She was also winner of the BBC's Celebrity Mastermind 2004. Add to that appearances in ITV's The Big Call, where Edwina helped one contestant win 20,000 and another almost 50,000, in Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes and Celebrity Wife Swap when she was paired with TV racing pundit John McCririck. "We didn't see eye to eye," Edwina admits. "Don't forget the programme took a full week to make, and we had to contend with cameramen, lighting engineers, producers, directors - all the paraphernalia associated with making a television film. It didn't make it any easier!"

Photos on the kitchen wall of Edwina and John on bicycles illustrate another slice of life, their charity work. They organised one ride in Poland which covered 450km and raised 240,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care. Eighty fund-raising cyclists - including Edwina and John - set out from Krakow for Warsaw, where Marie Curie was born, at the same time winning the 2005 Best Regional Campaign Award of the Institute of Professional Fund-Raising. A year later the event attracted 500 cyclists and raised 1 million.

Edwina's philosophy is that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. There's no doubt that if she's puts her mind to anything she will leave her mark.

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